By Guy Page
Two Vermont media outlets and all three of the state’s members of Congress are up in arms about a protest that happened outside a June 10 Lyndonville library reading by a gay, black poet Toussaint St. Negritude of Newark.
According to the initial report in the Caledonian-Record and and a follow-on story in VTDigger, the reading was cancelled midway by the library after the group began chanting his name. Then someone reportedly approached St. Negritude outside with her hand in a bag wanting to show him something. St. Negritude claimed he feared it was a gun.
Last week, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Peter Welch and Rep. Becca Balint issued a joint statement condemning the ‘hate’ shown by the protesters. “It’s disturbing to see homophobia and racism loud and present here in Vermont,” the statement said.
“Pretty much every word was a lie,” sidewalk demonstrator Kathleen Iselin told VDC this morning.
“It [the Caledonian-Record] article was a tabloid article that had nothing to do with the truth,” she added.
Five people – members of the Bethel Anabaptist Tabernacle in Lyndon – stood on the sidewalk in complete silence, holding signs with Bible verses such as “Righteousness Exalteth A Nation.” No-one chanted St. Negritude’s name, she said. The only person who called out his name was Iselin herself – and that time, only once, to get his attention.
As St. Negritude was calmly exiting the library with a friend, Iselin approached him (walking rapidly, she said) and called out his first name.
All she had in her hands was a King James Bible, the only version BAT members read. She wanted to give it to him. Stopping 20 feet way, waiting for an opening in the conversation, she called out his name.
“He said, ‘No, thank you.’ They walked back into the library,” Iselin said. “I was filled with amazing love, beautiful love, and gently turned around and walked away.”
“I was carrying a Bible, and I wanted to give it to him,” Iselin repeated. “I’ve known Touissant for 10 years.” In fact, several years ago she literally risked her life to support him.
Driving her car, she noticed that a state trooper had stopped St. Negritude, she said. Concerned that he might be a victim of profiling, she stopped and got out of her car and approached the trooper in his car, hoping to vouch for her acquaintance.
The state trooper was not pleased. He crouched behind the door of his cruiser and said, ‘Stop where you are and let me see your hands,’ Iselin recalled. Without intending to, “I kind of risked my life.”
This isn’t the church’s first encounter with criticism for its sidewalk proclamations. Like most spiritual descendents of the 16th century Protestant Anabaptists (from which the Amish and Mennonites, and Plymouth Brethren derived), BAT believes in publicly proclaiming the actual words of the Bible. In 2010, a church member was prohibited from speaking on Church Street in Burlington. The church has had a sidewalk presence in Lyndonville, sometimes to the displeasure of others. Their right to speak in public has been upheld by courts and local officials.
Strangely enough Iselin encountered St. Negritude a short while later at the Thrift Store. The encounter was unplanned. The poet was buying a lamp and Isselin was treating herself to some ‘new’ clothes (“Almost all my clothing comes from there”).
Surprised, she once again tried to give him a Bible. This time he responded more forcefully with a ‘stay away from me’ response.
Iselin was dumbfounded at the quick, overpowering media and political response to the initial story in the Caledonian-Record. “I think people crafted this article with him and for him,” she said. “I think there may be some kind of organized group that is funding and pushing every brand of homosexuality as part of an assault on the traditional family. It’s come on like a tsunami in this nation. It’s the takedown of the nation, but it’s also God’s judgement.”
Iselin is firm on speaking biblical truth about homosexuality – from a place of love, not condemnation.
“I feel love and forgiveness for these people,” she said. “They are so lost.”
There are billions of souls out there that are going to hell,” Iselin added. “I can’t stand it. This is simply an invitation to folks, to deeply consider the word of God, and choose to turn to God out of their own free will.”
The joint statement from the three members of Congress reads:
“Hate should have no place in Vermont. It’s disturbing to see homophobia and racism loud and present here in Vermont. Extremism and hate must be answered. We cannot allow it to take root in darkness or hope it will disappear if we ignore it. We affirm, loudly and with pride, our commitment to an equitable, welcoming, inclusive Vermont.
“As this incident sadly reminds us, Vermont is not immune from the challenges of our time. But we have also seen and lived the best of Vermont, one that is welcoming and courageous. In a healthy democracy we should embrace diversity, not protest it, and try to shut it down. That is the Vermont we must all continue to strive for, with courage, kindness, and an unceasing belief in community.”
Categories: Society & Culture